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Abstract

The subject of this paper is Protestant church architecture in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the early modern era, within Poland’s present-day borders. This includes lands which belonged to Poland before the Partitions and those granted in 1945 by the decision of the Potsdam Conference of three great powers (Mazury, New Marchia, Western Pomerania, and Silesia). In all the lands between the rivers Oder and Bug, which were affected by the Reformation, especially where the Evangelical National Churches (Mazury, New March, West Pomerania) were built, the concept of church founders “meriting” Eternal Salvationwas gradually disappearing. According to the recommendations of Martin Luther, all the churches that were not used for preaching the word of God, especially monastic and pilgrim churches, could be used for secular purposes or even dismantled. Only parish and castle churches were deemed acceptable, as they were serving the communities assigned to them. Wherever the Reformation supporters succeeded in taking over the medieval parish churches, far-reaching changes were made to their furnishings with time. Medieval altars were usually left in their original place, although some underwent Renaissance “modernising”, as in St. Nicholas Church in Brzeg (1572). New additions were in general the pulpits and the baptismal fonts, which together with the altar made the so-called liturgical triad, visible from anywhere in the church. In order to improve the visibility of the main liturgical acts, the emporas or galleries were introduced in the church interiors, forming an arrangement similar to the letter “L” or “U”. The elevation within the church space was created for the distinguished representatives of the widely understood establishment – the princely and noble patrons, mayors, councillors and aldermen. They were seated on special benches or in loges/boxes, usually highly impressive and ornamental pieces of furniture. From the mid-16th century, many churches in towns and country began to show signs of a new style: the Renaissance portals and gables, and the “Italian” tented roofs. The outer walls of the brick churches began to be plastered, and even made using the technique of sgraffito, in imitation of stone cutting. This was supposed to give churches a more “noble” look. Totally new places of worship were built wherever Evangelicals could not take possession of the local parish church, or where they had to return the church to the Catholics by court order or as a result of royal intervention. In the area of Lesser Poland (Malopolska), the noble followers of Calvinism and Arianism developed a rather dynamic church building, erecting structures of such high rank as the Calvinist church in Oks near Jędrzejów based on the horizontal plan of the Greek cross. In the area of Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) and Royal Prussia, Lutheran municipalities were often forced to hastily reuse various secular buildings such as private houses, baths, town halls and granaries. The most famous example of such a structure is the “Kripplein Christi” in Wschow, built in 1604 over a short period of time near the city walls, and using its gate tower as bell tower. A good occasion for the construction of new Evangelical churches, mainly Lutheran ones, were human resettlements conducted in the 16th and 18th centuries in the swampy areas of the Polish-Brandenburg borderland, near Trzcianka and Wielen, as well as in rural areas surrounding the three major towns of Royal Prussia – Gdańsk, Toruń and Elbląg. As part of these movements, not only voluntary settlers from the Netherlands and North Germany came to Poland, but also religious refugees, especially the Mennonites, highly praised for their development of Żuławy. A much larger scale of resettlements, however, was due to religious refugees from Bohemia and Silesia, especially in the final phase of the Thirty Years’ War (1635–1648). Thanks to these migrants, the existing towns of the Wielkopolska- Silesian borderlands, including Wschowa and Lesznów, enjoyed considerable growth, but also new centres such as Bojanowo, Rawicz, Szlichtyngowa, Zaborowo and Zduny were established. In each of these towns, inhabited almost entirely by Evangelicals, new churches were immediately built, which over time had acquired, like the Lutheran church of the Holy Cross in Leszno, monumental proportions. Several prominent new churches were also built in the second half of the 17th and early 18th centuries for the Silesian Evangelists who did not flee the country, although they lived in an area of re-catholicisation. According to the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia, the so-called Churches of Peace were established in Glogow, Świdnica and Jawor, which were not part of the existing parish network, then already completely Catholic. Similarly, the six so-called Churches of Grace were built in Silesia (Cieszyn, Jelenia Góra, Kamienna Góra, Kożuchów, Milicz, Żagań), as a result of the Convention of Altranstädt, signed in 1707 by Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I and King Charles XII of Sweden. The new tradition of Protestant church building, independent of the existing parish network was followed by the so-called Friedrichian prayer houses, established in Prussian Silesia since 1742, and the so-called tolerant churches, erected in Austrian Silesia since 1782. Similar status was granted to Lutheran churches in Poznan and Warsaw, built thanks to the concessions granted by King Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski after the restoration of rights to Polish religious dissenters by the Sejm in 1768. Both churches are outstanding works of Polish architecture in the era of early classicism. A separate place in the Protestant church building in the early modern era was occupied by castle chapels and court churches. A few substantial edifices of this type are still preserved in Poland, beginning with the Lutheran castle chapel in Szczecin (1575–1577) representing the “Vitruvian” ideals of the Renaissance. We can also mention the Calvinist castle chapel in Siedlisko near Nowa Sól (1616–1618), which combines with sophistication the modified gothic and mannerist forms, as well as the castle church in Kamieniec Suski (1716–1718), originally also Calvinist, which is one of the best replicas of the famous Huguenot temple from Charenton sur Seine. The Evangelical-Reformed court church in Wroclaw (1746–1750) was of great importance for church building in Silesia. Initially, it offended the local Lutherans with its ostentatious lack of images, but over time it became an inspiration for the most outstanding church buildings of Silesian Classicism, designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the Lutheran churches in Dzierżoniów, Rawicz, Syców and Walbrzych. A further development of Protestant church building in the lands belonging to the Polish state has progressed in a fairly uniform manner. Most of these lands after 1815 belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia, which over time was transformed into the German Empire. Church building, controlled by the Berlin headquarters, has undergone a far reaching standardization and homogenization. This fact began to reflect upon the perception of its earlier achievements, which for some critics have ceased to be a title for glory, as a manifestation of excessive individualism and too exuberant imagination. German scholarly research on the history of Protestant church construction in the countries “east of the Elbe” was interrupted by World War II and its consequences, which for the architectural heritage of the Reformation turned out to be particularly tragic. Many churches were destroyed during the war and many have fallen into disrepair as a result of the post-war human migrations and a huge gap in the Evangelical population. The Polish Catholic Church, which had taken over most of the old Evangelical temples, for a long period of time, could not cope with their furnishings. Fortunately, there were some well-informed and educated priests who took care of the Protestant temples. From the late 1960s they were also able to count on the support of the academic community, in particular the Institute of Art History of the University of Wroclaw. This institution has continued to conduct systematic research on Protestant church architecture and art in Silesia, Poland and throughout Europe. This has brought a rich crop of master and doctoral dissertations and many other publications in Poland and abroad.
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